An in-depth trailer analysis for the upcoming post-apocalyptic thriller flick, "SNOWPIERCER"

Bong Joon-Ho's futuristic action epic "Snowpiercer" recently released a spectacular trailer to keep the saliva thick and wanting before the film's South Korean release and world premiere on August 1. Here, I'm going to take you through three key sequences from that amazing trailer, and share some thoughts on what to expect from one of the most anticipated films of the year.

Snowpiercer 10 - Train Section Map

In 2004, Bong reportedly came across the French comic book Le Transperceneige and read the entire series right there in the store. He shared his enthusiasm with fellow Korean director Park Chan-Wook ("Old Boy", "Stoker") whose production company Moho Films secured the rights to it the following year. The film is a transnational exhibition that boasts a number of international talents (Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Alison Pill) in front of and behind the camera. Korean cinematographer Hong Kyeong-Pyo and all-star Korean actor Song Kang-Ho are among an orchestra of creative personalities who brought their impressive cinematic talents into the mix.

Korea's own CJ Entertainment is distributing the film, as well as the American studio, The Weinstein Company, who secured a number of the film's distribution rights in November of last year. The film is also pegged as being the most expensive Korean film in history ($39.2 million), and will have to perform well locally to turn a profit. All these and other juicy bits of, what I've come to recognize as, 'extra-textual' information swarms “Snowpiercer”, the suspense building as its release draws nearer, but enough context for now.

The trailer was a grandiloquent celebration of the gifted authorities involved; but it's the actual story and its tone that I've been most enthralled with. The serendipitous nature of Bong's discovery and enjoyment of Le Transperceneige seems to be, at least for English speakers, limited to realm of myth and French. As far as I can tell, there are currently no English versions of the comic and, much to my disappointment, I haven't been able to satisfy that desire to read the source material first. I don't think I am alone here though, and I am sure if the comic book hasn't already been flagged for translation it soon will be.


Snowpiercer 03 - Wilford

The first sequence from the trailer I flagged was, in fact, the very first one. The film still remains slightly obscure in commercial sense (as its mythical French origins do attest). The trailer bridges this gap immediately by blowing us away with some concise exposition of the multicultural dystopia we've all come to see. However, seeing happy children chanting in a bright and colourful classroom is, perhaps, the complete opposite of what was expected. Sneaky Bong.

Here's my transcription and some images from that sequence:

[TV IMAGE] – “The Wilford Story: His Early Years”

[CHILDREN CHANTING] – “Wilford! Wilford, Wilford, hip hooray!”

[VIDEO NARRATION] – “A circular railway that extends for four hundred and thirty-eight thousand kilometers to complete one circle every year.”


This first sequence gives us some much-needed background on the film's premise. In a dark post-apocalyptic future, survivors of the second ice age live on an extremely long train that circles the globe perpetually. In the first scene, indoctrinated children are shown within their vibrant and narrow classroom while they chant their savior Wilford's (Ed Harris) name. The class is watching a propaganda video on Wilford's life and accomplishments. He's the mythologized demi-god responsible for the train's construction and, for all intensive brainwashing purposes, the lives of the passengers. This happy little scene is a false microcosm for life on the Snowpiercer. It conceals the depressing truth about the train's social segregation and its totalitarian bindings. The next two sequences I pulled feature this, disturbingly rather Margaret Thatcher-looking madam of Snowpiercer.

After catching a glimpse of a delightful Aryan girl dressed in pink and ribbons, we are shown a short video that explains a little more about the train and where it travels. It takes the Snowpiercer one whole year to complete its 438,000 kilometer globetrot. This is interesting because it challenges the viewers' understanding of both time and space in the film. Space-time in "Snowpiercer" has been creatively recalibrated with that relativity in mind, as cultural borders and regional season shifts no longer act as the locus point for geographic centers of culture and race. Such is the transnational appeal of "Snowpiercer", as its multicultural roots have infiltrated the production process as well as the film's own messages and themes.

The image immediately following the map illustrates the train's changes in space and time. It shows a circular calendar marked with the months, days, seasons, and (albeit traditional American) holidays of the year. The result of such temporal and spatial distortions are annual 'summer' holidays in South America, Halloween pops up over Alaska, Washington's Birthday is celebrated in the Middle East, and there is a long winter's drive through revolutionary Russia to look forward to each year. Sadly, the bottom of Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania didn't get the nod from the benevolent Wilford.


Snowpiercer 05 - Mason

The second sequence from the trailer that caught my eye was a brief speech by the train's unabashed tyrant, Mason (played by Tilda Swinton). In these images, she is reminding the 'tail-dwellers' of their place on this new world/cold train:

[MASON] – “Passengers! As in the beginning, I belong to the front. And you belong to the tail. Keep your place!”


Standing above the soulless crowd of lowly passengers is Mason, a hardline female politician of European descent who expects nothing less than complete submission, or blood. In this scene, Mason's entourage of security personnel stands guard—she is the train’s appointed prime minister, after all. The rancid mustard colour of her fur coat is draped around her faded royal purple jacket as she elegantly explains the train's dogmatic class policies. This carriage is dark and cramped, but the grubby and defeated faces of the lower-class passengers can be seen as they listen like statues to the witch-god's ravings.

Class struggle is obviously the primary theme in "Snowpiercer" and that idea is nicely visualized in its smallest measureable unit in this scene. There is a great little visual effect that occurs when Mason tells the crowd, "And you belong to the tail". When she first extends her arm to gesture, the depth of field is shallow, meaning that only Mason's visual plane is in focus while the crowd is blurred. After the end of the word "tail", the focus moves towards the scene's background so the faces of the crowd briefly become clear while Mason becomes blurred. It's a great little technique that pulls our eyes along with it, as if our vision was on track and can be manipulated at will.

The film's cinematographer Hong Kyeong-Pyo looks more than up to the task of adding visual complexity to the train's claustrophobic compartments and the intense action it looks to contain. The film's closed-frames are tight and constricting, its oppressive glamour never falters as we believe the world is no longer round, but a narrow tube mocking us with time and place at every turn. Not too many long shots here, characters have been squeezed in with others, and even when solely shot, Hong has his subjects trapped in some other mean-spirited visual arrangement.

Claustrophobic is the word. The viewer's 'peripheral vision' is enigmatically removed and, like a mad horse let loose down a dark alley, we rage for exits that don't exist. It's the closed-framing techniques, the murky lighting, and that uncomfortable and intense proximity to the characters that drives our fear of confinement. Before the title screen "The Relentless Uprise Begins", the camera cuts right back to Mason who, with her golden tooth gleaming, almost spits out the words: "Keep your place!" Like those passengers, we the viewer are trapped within the frame and its cruel constrictions.


Snowpiercer 01 - Curtis

The last scene I wanted to discuss contains a moment from perhaps the film's actual climax. Our hero Curtis (Chris Evans) and his motley tail section crew (Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Song Kang-Ho, Go Ah-Sung) look like they have, quite literally I'm sure, fought their way up to this moment. Now all that stands between them and toppling the queen is an axe-yielding mob. The difference between the previously subservient and the hooded gang is raised through the juxtaposition of the two shots, and it's this intentional pairing by the filmmakers that warrants consideration. But before their differences are noted it is, strangely enough, their similarities that first grab our attention. This is achieved by presenting the two groups as almost mirrors to each other, as one shot follows the next without much change to make-up of the frame.

They are from a similar height and both create the illusion (achieved through the camera's depth of field) of a seemingly endless mass of battle-ready brawlers. Here, the train's narrow setting serves to heighten the dramatic tension caused by this exciting standoff. Both sides appear to look equally matched (perhaps the point at this stage of the film) in numbers and battle-readiness, and have nowhere to retreat, run, or otherwise avoid the bloody collision that must follow.

In the axe-loving corner headed by Mason, we see a lot of team spirit expressed through uniformity and order. Members are all sporting black attire and, while it seems sizes of the individuals may vary, they all agreed to go out hacking. Their uniformity contains another interesting fact in that all of their identities are unknown by wearing balaclavas over their heads, as if service to the queen demands self-sacrificing of personal freedom. Opposing this fashionably collective herd are our tail-end heroes. They look exhausted after their stroll from the train's rear end, and appear to have encountered a little resistance along the way. Between heavy breaths, this gang is mentally preparing to attempt to bloody this part of the train good and proper. While this is all going on, we hear Mason once again preaching the holy truth via a loudspeaker this time:\

[MASON] – “You people who pray not for the benevolent Wilford, would have been frozen solid eighteen years ago today!”


There is a great shot of the sadistic white queen standing behind her pawns, staring through her binoculars at the bloody spectacle. Mason’s smile is big and sinister, and her fingers flicker disturbingly as she seems to be enjoying the show. Here, a telescopic lens was used that again channels our vision to Mason, who is doing much the same thing with her binoculars.

The third image contains the actual scene where Mason's words are heard. She is addressing her own troops and, like she did with the lower-class citizens, is reminding them of Wilford the Divine and his sacrifices. Unlike her speech to the tail-enders, Mason is shown in the battle dressed in her white military garb. Pinned to her garment is a number of medals of distinction, and she is also accompanied by two close guards and other high-ranking train officers (also looking smart in uniform). So there is definitely a recognizable political system in place on the train: one with sigils, structure, as well as heavy influence of the church. So is this what happens when the church and state not only can't be separated, but are forced into a small metal object that's hurling itself perpetually around the Earth during a post-apocalyptic event?

Along with Mason's testaments of the "benevolent Wilford" and his sacrifices, we also see these militaristic and hierarchical structures in operation within the Snowpiercer. She tells the rebellious tail section passengers that if it weren't for Wilford, they would be cold corpses in the snow. She also speaks of Wilford as a sort of demi-god or a liberator of the people, which is attested to her final lines in the trailer that goes, “The engine is sacred, and Wilford is divine! Wilford is merciful!” Given the way Wilford is presented in the trailer through Mason's religion ramblings and via the classroom propaganda video, we are left to assume that this Wilford may actually be dead, and the myth of the man is being manipulated for political gain. However, I don't think this is actually the case; the film's story may not proclaim him to be dead as such, but perhaps Mason spins a story that he is otherwise busy with official demi-god duties, like throwing coal into the burner of the perpetual motion engine.

The trailer for Bong Joon-ho's sci-fi epic looks simply incredible. It's eye-catching, edgy, and we get a great taste of the international talent that pooled their passions for the film's success. The story, adapted from comic book Le Transperceneige, reminded me in some ways of Tom Hooper's film adaptation of Les Misérables, which, in addition to containing their respected rebellions, both involve a time span of seventeen years.

I flagged these three sequences from the trailer because I think they're particularly insightful in terms of what we can begin to expect from "Snowpiercer" both from a narrative and a cinematic perspective. If I did have one concern it would be that the trailer was, maybe, a little too revealing by tilting its hand a little early with regards to its entire structure and possible climax conflicts.

So there you have it! These are just some of the things to think about and get excited for in Bong Joon-Ho's "Snowpiercer". It's definitely got my support and I personally find Korean cinema's handling of darker subject matter to be riveting and visually intense. "Snowpiercer" seems to be heading in the right direction as its world premiere comes up on August 1 in South Korea. A good showing there would be a serious shot in the arm for its international sales, as well as any possible awards that may eventually come its way.


This quite an interesting read, so I'm hoping this gets through. Original text from the source was too long and somewhat messy with the writing, so I edited out some parts and highlighted interesting sections of the article, so I hope that's okay, Mods. Also, a lot of people mentioned that they couldn't understand what Tilda Swinton was saying in the trailer from previous "Snowpiercer" posts, so I'm glad that the article has clear transcriptions of her dialogue. NGL, I'm totes excited for this and IDGAF what anyone else thinks.

Would you rebel against the privileged 1% during a post-apocalyptic situation, 99% peeps of ONTD?